Last Saturday I reached a milestone while playing Destiny: my character, an Awoken Warlock, finally reached level 30, the current maximum level.
It took me a long time to get there. I had to try for three weeks just to acquire an helmet to complete the armour set. But I definitely had fun on the way. Completing the Vault of Glass or a Strike for the first time felt really good. I also met a lot of nice players without whom I couldn’t have done it. Destiny is a cooperative game after all. It is just a little bit annoying that the support for cooperative playing is somewhat underdeveloped.
For the first extension Bungie have announced that they will increase the maximum level to 32. My guess is that reaching level 32 will require me to replace all four pieces of my character’s armour and upgrade each of the new pieces. I would basically have to start (almost) from scratch again. And I’m not sure that I’m up for that.
A couple of month ago I noticed that a lot my PlayStation network contacts were playing the beta of a game called Destiny. The last game whose demo sparked that much interest was Mass Effect 3. So naturally I was curious and looked the game up online: a combination of a science fiction themed MMORPG and a first person shooter. Based on that and favourable reviews of the beta I decided to pre-order the PlayStation 4 version of the game.
Destiny is indeed a first person shooter and a well made one at that. Fast and nice looking graphics, big maps, lots of different enemies and an arsenal of well balanced weapons to fight them. Besides story missions that can be played alone or cooperatively Destiny also features various player vs. player modes which are in design similar to video games like Unreal Tournament. Destiny also contains some role playing elements: the player can choose between three different classes for the character which match the scheme found in many role playing games: Titan (Soldier), Hunter (Rogue) and Warlock (Mage). Each of the classes features three grenade powers, a powerful melee attack, a special jump and a Super. This super power is what distinguishes the classes from each other. Hunters e.g. get a Golden Gun which fires three powerful shots while Warlocks can trigger a powerful explosion by casting Nova Bomb. If a character reaches level 15 its second subclass is unlocked. This subclass provides a different set of powers which mostly notably includes a different Super. The player can switch between the two subclasses anytime but needs to level them up separately.
Destiny provides a very satisfying first person shooter experience. The well tuned combat system, the elaborate map design and the smoothly working multiplayer mode all contribute to that. It is particular fun when you take on one of the challenging Strike missions with your friends. As the game doesn’t feature any get out of jail free cards (like e.g. Mass Effect 3 multiplayer’s Medigels or Cobra Missiles) team work and coordination are very important. You have to decide quickly whether you want to risk exposing yourself by reviving your team mate or whether you wait 30 seconds for them to re-spawn. The role playing part however is disappointing. There isn’t much story, only hints, very little dialog and no way for the player to influence the plot. And while the concept of the Super is interesting its excessive cool down times prevents the player from using it frequently. I end up using it even less often than I could because I want to keep it charged in case a really challenging fight is around the next corner. There are also very little customisation options for your equipment. Most armours look very much alike and you need an extra item to apply one of the predefined colour schemes. Acquiring good equipment is even more important than in other games because it is the only way to level up past level 20. But as so often in video games you either need a lot of luck or spend hours and hours of grinding to get the desired equipment.
I definitely enjoy playing Destiny despite the underdeveloped RPG aspect. It reminds of Borderlands 2 in a good way. And to be fair Bungie, the company who created Destiny, called the game a shared world shooter which is a reasonable description. They never promised to deliver the MMORPG that players were hoping for. Based on that I’m however wondering whether the game will really have a life time of 10 years as Bungie promise. It will all depend on future expansions to this game world.
I had it all planned out: when BioWare releases Dragon Age: Inquisition in October I would buy a PlayStation 4 (PS4), Sony’s new video game console, and enjoy playing this game on the new hardware in brilliant graphics. But my good old PlayStation 3 needed a proper farewell of course. I decided that Naughty Dog’s highly acclaimed The Last Of Us would be the perfect game for the occasion. It was supposed to be the last title I play on my good old console, beside the occasional match of Mass Effect 3 multiplayer of course. But no battle plan survives first contact with the enemy.
The first change of plan was due to a very pleasant surprise: my beloved wife gave me a PS4 as a birthday present back in April. But the next surprise wasn’t all that pleasant: BioWare postponed the release of Dragon Age: Inquisition until November. Fortunately Sony came to the rescue by releasing a remastered version of The Last Of Us for the PS4 . I therefore revised my plan and chose this game for the induction of my shiny new console.
On a quick glance The Last Of Us is a third person shooter. In a post pandemic world the player has to fight zombies and find supplies to survive. What sets this game apart is the story telling. It begins with an interactive prologue during which the player witnesses the beginning of the zombie apocalypse and the downfall of civilisation. It also introduces Joel, the main protagonist, and shows him during some of his defining moments. The main story begins 20 years later when Joel meets Ellie. By random chance Joel ends up in the role of Ellie’s protector and agrees unwillingly to bring her to a remote research station because she might be the key to the survival of the human race. But during the long and dangerous journey Joel and Ellie discover that there are worse things than zombies.
I’m a huge fan of video games which combine good gameplay with a strong narrative. And The Last Of Us delivers on both accounts. Because ammunition is scarce and the zombies outnumber Joel and Ellie you have to plan your fights very carefully. Stealth and good tactics always beat blazing guns. Often the best of course of action is to avoid open combat all together. In between the action sequences frequent cut scenes tell the multifaceted story. The player encounters a lot of characters which are all well written, realistically acted (via motion capturing) and excellently voiced. The game manages to stay clear of the stereotypes frequently used in video games and instead portrays all protagonist as real human beings with flaws and virtues. Playing The Last Of Us feels like being part of an interactive story. You are alway eager to find out what happens next. Good visual and sound effects complete a truly marvellous video game experience.
I greatly enjoyed playing The Last Of Us. While it definitely doesn’t push the PS4 to its limits (the PS3 heritage is still recognisable) it provides an exciting adventure. I grew fond of the characters during the course of the game and was a bit sad when it ended. I’m not sure whether I want a sequel. Probably not because The Last Of Us is just perfect the way it is and a sequel could ruin it.